Alberto Gonzales’s Civil Rights Division Lite: Taking the “Justice” Out of Justice Department
Posted by Mikhaela Reid
Taste the new “Justice” Department’s Civil Rights Division Lite! Now with 99% less: hate crimes prosecution, voting rights enforcement and police brutality investigations! Super-Action-Packed with Loyal Bushies, Wiretapping and Religious Extremists! It’s a Yum-Tastic Justice Department makeover!
The Bush administration has laid waste to the Justice Department on a large scale, as the scandals over the replacement of high-performing federal prosecutors with “loyal Bushies” and that whole warrantless wiretapping nastiness have shown.
The Bush makeover of the Civil Rights Division is similarly extreme. The pre-Bush Justice Department Civil Rights Division was founded in 1957. The Division protected voting rights and enforced anti-discrimination laws, with a particular focus on discrimination based on race and national origin. From the Division website:
The Division enforces the Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended through 1992; the Equal Credit Opportunity Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; the National Voter Registration Act; the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act; the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act; and additional civil rights provisions contained in other laws and regulations. These laws prohibit discrimination in education, employment, credit, housing, public accommodations and facilities, voting, and certain federally funded and conducted programs.
Or do they? Under Bush and Gonzales, Justice has shifting funding, focus and resources to more Dubyafied priorities. As the New York Times reported this week (“Justice Dept. Reshapes Its Civil Rights Mission”):
In recent years, the Bush administration has recast the federal government’s role in civil rights by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the traditional area of race.
Read the whole article, but here are some particular horrors:
The old Civil Rights Division (Civil Rights Clasic, if you will) fought discrimination in hiring. The Civil Rights Lite Division defends the right of religious groups like the Salvation Army to discriminate (see “Charity Cites Bush Help in Fight Against Hiring Gays” and “Court OKs Religious Hiring Bias by Federally Backed Charities”).
Civil Rights Classic lent federal enforcement weight to the prosecution of hate crimes cases: KKK attacks, lynchings, and more. Civil Rights Lite has diverted that funding to a pet cause of the Christian Right. Again from the NYT, the Civil Rites Lite Division is…
Taking on far fewer hate crimes and cases in which local law enforcement officers may have violated someone’s civil rights. The resources for these traditional cases have instead been used to investigate trafficking cases, typically involving foreign women used in the sex trade, a favored issue of the religious right.
Certainly trafficking cases deserve funding–but not at the expense of victims of racism, hate crimes and police brutality. Trafficking cases used to and should be handled elsewhere.
Civil Rights Classic defended the voting rights of people of color. Civil Rites Lite suppresses the voting rights people of color through new voter ID requirements and baseless “voter fraud” case–and has even pursued its first claim of voter intimidation against white people. As John Nichols writes in The Nation (“Curing the Rot at Justice”):
The Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have uncovered evidence of what they describe as “a much broader strategy on the part of the Administration to use federal agencies charged with protecting voting rights to promote voter suppression and influence election rules so as to gain partisan advantage in battleground states.” There is now a compelling case that the White House used the Justice Department’s Civil Rights and Criminal divisions and the Election Assistance Commission to create a false perception of widespread voter fraud to justify initiatives–stringent voter identification laws, crackdowns on voter registration drives and pre-election purges of eligible voters from the rolls–designed to disenfranchise the poor, minorities, students and seniors.
The New York Times reports on this as well. Civil Rights Lite is:
Sharply reducing the complex lawsuits that challenge voting plans that might dilute the strength of black voters. The department initiated only one such case through the early part of this year, compared with eight in a comparable period in the Clinton administration.
Trouble is, only the federal government has the resources to deal with these voting dilution cases. Oh well–it’s not like black voters get disenfranchised anymore, right? Too bad, but they’ve got a new kind of case to focus on:
The civil rights division also brought the first case ever on behalf of white voters, alleging in 2005 that a black political leader in Noxubee County, Miss., was intimidating whites at the polls.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM TRUMPS ALL OTHER FREEDOMS
But back to the Salvation Army. If you visit the Justice Department website, you’ll read very little about racist discrimination and the ongoing disenfranchisement of voters of color. Instead, you read about this exciting “special initiative” from Alberto “Geneva Conventions Are Quaint” Gonzales, “The First Freedom Project”:
Religious liberty is often referred to as the “First Freedom” because the Framers placed it first in the Bill of Rights. Yet it is not merely first in order: it is a fundamental freedom on which so many of our other freedoms rest.
Forget freedom of speech, forget freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, and most especially freedom from unreasonable search and seizure: the first and most important freedom is the freedom of religious organizations to receive government funding for firing gay people.
Some of the other evidence of Civil Rights Lite cited by the New York Times:
Supporting groups that want to send home religious literature with schoolchildren; in one case, the government helped win the right of a group in Massachusetts to distribute candy canes as part of a religious message that the red stripes represented the blood of Christ.
Conservative religious groups who love the taste of Civil Rights Lite say that the weight of the federal government is no longer needed to combat racism and discrimination–silly stuff like that can be left up to local authorities. Of course, local authorities often lack the resources, will or perspective to fight racism. Historically, local authorities in the South often deliberately turned their backs on racist attacks and civil rights violations, and I’m not so sure those days are totally behind us. And that whole federal ignoring of civil rights and the issues of black people worked out great during Katrina, didn’t it?
HIRING LOYAL BUSHIES
Oh, and then there’s the hiring thing. We all remember sweet little Monica “I crossed the line” Goodling, trying so hard to make everything harmonious at Justice by hiring only “loyal Bushies”. The NYT analyzed department statistics and found that Civil Rights Classic hired lawyers with impressive backgrounds and qualifications. Civil Rights Lite hires lawyers from religious law schools (like Pat Robertson’s academically questionable Regent Law) who play up their conservative and religious credentials as much as possible.
Cross-posted at Boiling Point Blog.
P.S. Have you bought Attack of the 50-Foot Mikhaela! Cartoons by Mikhaela B. Reid (with foreword by Ted Rall) yet? Why not?